photo-rbt.jpg (2942 bytes)

Email Robert
Email Anonymous
(Read this first)

Daynotes Journal

Week of 23 October 2000

Friday, 05 July 2002 08:26

A (mostly) daily journal of the trials, tribulations, and random observations of Robert Bruce Thompson, a writer of computer books.


wpoison

 

 

 

Search [tips]

TTG Home

Robert Home

Daynotes Home

Links

Special Reports

Current Topics

 


Order PC Hardware in a Nutshell from Fatbrain.com

Jump to most recent update
Jump to Linux Chronicles page


Monday, 23 October 2000

[Last Week] [Monday] [Tuesday] [Wednesday] [Thursday] [Friday] [Saturday] [Sunday] [Next Week]


Thanks to everyone who's already bought a copy of our latest book, PC Hardware in a Nutshell. If you haven't ordered a copy yet, why not click the link and do so now? Thanks.


Thanks to everyone who sent messages yesterday pleading with me not to discontinue this page. It's nice to be appreciated. But I never intended to discontinue the page, simply to devote less time to it. What that means, mostly, is that I won't have time to post much email or to engage in the continuing discussions via email that I have been doing. But I'll still be here. I'd considered bringing up a message board, but that's one more thing that I simply don't have time to research, set up, or maintain.

If you're looking for something new and entertaining to read, check out some of the other members of the Daynotes group. There are lots of good sites there, and the two newest members, Jonathan Sturm and John Dominik, are writing up a storm.

Monitor problems this morning. Barbara has been using a 17" OEM Gateway Vivitron 17  monitor on her main system. It's a decent quality monitor, made by Philips (I think) and with a Sony Trinitron tube. Yesterday, she called me back to her office to point out that when her screen blanker kicked in, the entire monitor had a reddish cast to it. I figured the monitor was going bad--it originally came with a Gateway Pentium/133 system, so it's several years old--and put replacing it on my to-be-done-soon list. This morning, she came in to tell me that the monitor was bright red when she went into her office first thing.

I have a very similar monitor on my desk, which is shared via the Belkin OmniCube with three secondary systems. This monitor is an OEM Dell 17" unit, and appears identical. It's also built by Phillips and has a Trinitron tube. This one came with a Dell Pentium/200 system, and so is probably a year or so younger than the one Barbara has. So we swapped monitors. I was kind of hoping that it was a video card problem, but the Dell monitor works fine on her system, and the Gateway blanks to red on mine. So it goes. I'd better get another monitor on order, although I have enough spare monitors around that the problem isn't urgent.

I asked Barbara if she'd like a Hitachi 19" monitor, but she's happy with the 17" size. She said a 19" would be too large for her desk. She suggested I order another Hitachi 19" monitor for myself. I suspect I'll order another Hitachi 19" and put it on her desk. She may change her mind. If not, we have 17" monitors she can use, or I could buy her a new 17" Hitachi.

And I need to get to work.


wpoison

 

 

 

Search [tips]

TTG Home

Robert Home

Daynotes Home

Links

Special Reports

Current Topics

 


Tuesday, 24 October 2000

[Last Week] [Monday] [Tuesday] [Wednesday] [Thursday] [Friday] [Saturday] [Sunday] [Next Week]


The Register published an interesting article yesterday about the decline and probable eventual fall of the National Security Agency. The article covered a lot of ground, but I think it missed the single most important issue facing the NSA today. Strong encryption. In the glory days of the past, the NSA was famous for intercepting Politburo telephone conversations and similarly difficult technical feats. But the issue there was gaining access to weak signals, for which the NSA used "National Technical Means", typically spy satellites. But once they were able to intercept the signals, making sense of them was trivial because they were generally not encrypted or encrypted using easily-broken methods. The signals intercept folks simply handed a recording to a translator, who generated a transcript from the recording.

Nowadays, even routine communications--voice and data--are protected using strong encryption methods, which means the NSA is increasingly becoming an obsolete agency. They have tens of thousands of staff and billions of dollars worth of equipment, all dedicated to capturing the small and decreasing amount of data that they can actually do something with. Unless, of course, as I've speculated about in the past, the NSA has developed a simple algorithm for factoring the products of large primes. If that's the case--and I don't think it is--the NSA can decrypt essentially all commercial traffic and nearly all military and diplomatic traffic. In fact, everything except high-grade military traffic that is encrypted with one-time pads.

But that brings up an interesting dichotomy: if the NSA can't decrypt much of anything, why do they continue to employ tens of thousands of people and spend billions of dollars to essentially no effect? And if they have developed a simple algorithm for factoring the products of large primes, why do they continue to employ tens of thousands of people and spend billions of dollars to essentially no effect? They could accomplish the same thing in either case by announcing that they can no longer decrypt anything worth reading, laying off their entire staff, and disappearing into the sunset.

More heads-down work yesterday on chapters for PC Hardware: The Definitive Guide. Pournelle called a couple times last night to go over various stuff. He's adding lots of "Chaos Manor War Stories", which will make this book different from any PC hardware book ever written. I think he summed things up well when he told me, "You're in charge of making our book comprehensive. I'm in charge of making our book comprehensible." We realize that few people will actually sit down and read this book cover-to-cover like a novel, but the goal is to make it readable in that sense. And if anyone can do that, Jerry can.

As usual, the conversation got sidetracked. That's the reason we both hate talking on the phone, because we both love talking on the phone. We end up talking about politics or science or the Roman Empire or John Stuart Mill and Utilitarianism, or whatever, and an hour later we're still on the phone. Poor Barbara. She'll be sitting there watching something on TV when Jerry calls. She usually just mutes the sound and gives up on the program she was watching as a lost cause. I'm sure Roberta has the same problem when I call Jerry.

Last night, the digressions weren't as bad as usual. Jerry picked up the parts at Fry's yesterday to build a couple of Athlon systems. They were selling a Soyo motherboard with an Athlon/700 for $120. As Jerry said, at that price they're almost giving them to him, so he bought two. Of course, the heatsink/fan was a $30 option. Jerry had never built an Athlon box before and asked me if there was anything special to watch out for. "You mean other than the facts that many standard power supplies won't work with the Athlon and that the Athlon has no thermal diode, so you can burn it up in literally 30 seconds?" I asked. "Yep, those kinds of things," Jerry responded. I expect that Jerry has a functioning Athlon box this morning. Maybe two.

And I'm working hard to get another chapter ready for Jerry's attention. This one is about serial ports. The challenge of making that chapter a page-turner is going to be worthy of Jerry's skills. As hard as I've worked on it, the characters still have names like NS16550AFN and I can't come up with a plot.

And I need to climb up on the roof and blow out the gutters this afternoon, because it's supposed to rain tomorrow.

 


wpoison

 

 

 

Search [tips]

TTG Home

Robert Home

Daynotes Home

Links

Special Reports

Current Topics

 


Wednesday, 25 October 2000

[Last Week] [Monday] [Tuesday] [Wednesday] [Thursday] [Friday] [Saturday] [Sunday] [Next Week]


Our first article on CD writers is now up on the O'Reilly web site. The second part is scheduled to appear Thursday, and the third early next week. O'Reilly maintains a web board for comments on the article, so please feel free to read the article and click on the link at the end if you want to add your own comments. 

The Intel D815BN motherboard showed up yesterday. Although this is a pre-production sample, it appears to be a very nice board. The D815BN uses the microATX form factor, but Intel has crammed a lot into that small space. The board includes three DIMM sockets, and supports up to 512 MB of PC133 SDRAM. It can use anything from a 66 MHz FSB Celeron/500 to a 133 MHz FSB Pentium III/1000. There are three PCI slots, which, given the level of integration on the board, should be enough for anyone. That integration includes i815 video (including a DVO video connector), AD1885 sound, and Intel 10/100 Ethernet. And, whereas the video in earlier integrated Intel motherboards could be upgraded only with a PCI video card, the D815BN includes a Universal AGP 4X slot. The AGP slot can accommodate either a standard AGP video card or a $20 GPA (Graphics Performance Accelerator), which is essentially a add-on video memory card. We can't find any real downsides to this board. Some reviewers will no doubt point out that the D815BN uses the 815 chipset (rather than the 815E), which means that it supports only ATA/66 rather than the ATA/100 supported by the 815E. But that's not an issue with current hard drives, and isn't likely to become one. Overall, this looks like an excellent choice for anyone who wants to put together a high-quality entry-level system at minimum cost.

Intel originally intended this board to be OEM-only, but later reversed that decision and is now shipping the D815BN into the channel in 10-unit boxes. No word yet on when (or whether) a retail-boxed version will appear. A quick check of the Internet showed no one yet selling this board, but my guess is that it'll be available in single-unit quantities in the next 30 days or so. Nor do I have any word about pricing, although I'd guess that the street price will probably be under $150. Perhaps well under, given that the flagship Intel D815EEA now sells for $150 or so street.

And that points out the major reason why the AMD Duron has had such a hard time making headway in entry-level systems. Reviews of the Duron at Tom's Hardware and AnandTech point out that the Duron outperforms the Celeron clock-for-clock, and our own testing confirms this. But that misses the point entirely. If you have to choose between a $70 Duron and a $70 Celeron in isolation, the Duron is certainly more processor for the money. But a bare processor isn't much use to anyone, and where the Duron falls down is on total system cost.

You can install that $70 Celeron in a $150 D815BN and (once you've added memory, drives, and so on) have a complete, functioning system. If you choose the $70 Duron, you buy a $150 ASUS or ABIT motherboard, which has no embedded components. By the time you buy decent-quality video, sound, and LAN adapters, the Duron system ends up costing $100 or so more than the Celeron system. That's a significant premium for an entry-level PC, enough differential to allow adding another 64 MB of RAM to the Celeron system and going with the next step up in hard drive size and speed. 

It may be that the forthcoming VIA KM133 chipset will address this problem successfully, but that remains to be seen. For the time being, the Celeron holds the cost advantage for entry-level systems, and boards like the D815BN are the reason.

I'll be building a new system around the D815BN once Intel ships me one of their new fast Celerons to put in it.

 


wpoison

 

 

 

Search [tips]

TTG Home

Robert Home

Daynotes Home

Links

Special Reports

Current Topics

 


Thursday, 26 October 2000

[Last Week] [Monday] [Tuesday] [Wednesday] [Thursday] [Friday] [Saturday] [Sunday] [Next Week]


As regular readers know, I like and recommend Intel motherboards for general-purpose systems. But they can be hard to find at retail (although my local computer store carries them) and I frequently get requests from readers for a mail-order source. While searching the web, I came across one source, a company called ProVantage, which seems like a reasonable source. Their prices are reasonable and they seem to stock a good selection. I'll hasten to add that I've never done business with these folks, so I can't really recommend them per se. 

But I did check them out on ResellerRatings.com, which gives them a 6.1--comparable to companies like NECx, Onvia, Outpost, and PC Connection, all companies that I have done business with and feel comfortable ordering from. I've found that the ResellerRatings numbers correspond with my own experiences, at least for companies that have a reasonably high number of data points. My own rule of thumb is that companies that have a 6.0 or higher are probably safe; those in the 5.0 to 5.9 range are worth considering if what I want isn't in stock at one of the 6.0+ places; and those that have a rating lower than 5.0 are probably not companies I want to do business with.

Barbara is headed over to her parents' house this morning to help her dad rip out some old rotting landscape timbers and replace them with concrete landscaping forms. As usual, I'll be writing away. I want to get another couple of chapters to Pournelle this week. And I really do need to get some more work done on the HardwareGuys.com web site.

PC Hardware in a Nutshell is doing better in the Amazon.com rankings lately, although availability seems to be sporadic. Yesterday, it was back to "usually ships within 24 hours" for a little while, but this morning it's back to "usually ships within 2-3 days". Even that delay seems to hurt sales, as it seems that people don't want to wait to get a book. I know I don't. I suppose in one sense the out-of-stock situation is good, because it means that Amazon has sold all the copies they have on hand, but conversely many people won't order a book unless it's showing as in stock.

At any rate, PCHIAN seems to be moving copies neck-in-neck with Mueller's Upgrading & Repairing PCs. When I checked the latter title, I found it was sitting at 3,xxx, the same as PCHIAN. That's not high enough to make me really happy--that'd take something in the sub-500 range--but at least we're not getting blown away by Mueller's book.

I also noticed that Christopher Taylor had posted a one-star review of Mueller's book, recommending that people instead buy our book. Thanks, Christopher. I also liked your acronym for Mueller's book--URP. I suspect that Mr. Taylor is a visitor to this site--or perhaps Pournelle's site or both of our sites--because he's also posted a five-star review of Pournelle's The Burning City. 

I don't know how much help good Amazon reviews are for our book or how much hindrance poor Amazon reviews are for Mueller's book, but either is probably a good thing. Although I won't buy from Amazon.com, I do go over to read the reviews when I'm thinking about ordering a book. Then I order the book from a company whose business practices I don't abhor. I suspect a lot of people do the same. 

If you like PCHIAN (or dislike URP) and want to post a review or reviews to that effect over on Amazon, it might help. But please post reviews only if you really have an opinion about one or both books. I don't want to be responsible for corrupting the Amazon reader review process any more than has already occurred. 


-----Original Message-----
From: dmonnig [mailto:dmonnig@earthlink.net]
Sent: Thursday, October 26, 2000 2:13 AM
To: thompson@ttgnet.com
Subject: resolution problem

Hi Robert

Maybe you can help me with a frustrating problem. I have a older second computer that I can't get the resolution of the moniter beyound 480x600 without the whole desktop being bunched-up in the corner. My os is windows ME (just installed clean)with a Mag 1595 moniter and a Video card from s3 (Stealth64 video 2001 series). The moniter driver? for this specific driver is named in the Display pro0perties box-advanced. The original driver for the video card is older then the one currently installed according to windows Me. I've tried the help area of windows Me. I've adjusted both the video hardware speed in the advanced display area and the color options in the general category. Any suggestions? Any help would be most appreciated. Thanks in advance.

Don Monnig

Hmm. I'm not a Win9X guy, and I don't have any systems running Windows Me, but as it happens I do have a Mag DX-1595 running at 800X600 on a Win98SE box without any problems. From your description, it's not clear exactly what the problem is. If by "the whole desktop being bunched up" you mean that the entire screen is illuminated but all of the icons are up in one corner, that's easy enough to fix. Just right click on an empty area of the desktop and choose "arrange icons" or "line up icons" and they should be rearranged to cover the full display area. If you mean that the illuminated area covers only one corner of the screen, you'll need to use the adjustment buttons on the lower right front of the monitor to adjust the size of the display area until it covers the entire screen surface. Either way, the DX-1595 should work fine with WinMe.

 


wpoison

 

 

 

Search [tips]

TTG Home

Robert Home

Daynotes Home

Links

Special Reports

Current Topics

 


Friday, 27 October 2000

[Last Week] [Monday] [Tuesday] [Wednesday] [Thursday] [Friday] [Saturday] [Sunday] [Next Week]


Our second article about burning CDs is up on the O'Reilly web site.

I found the first review of PC Hardware in a Nutshell over on Barnes & Noble. It's a good one. It concludes "Specific, comprehensive, and relentlessly useful -- superb!" Relentlessly useful. I like that. That's us. Relentless. The "superb" part isn't bad, either.

I still have no idea what's going on with availability of PC Hardware in a Nutshell. It seems to bounce up and down on Amazon, and I've heard from various readers that they've either gotten their book from Fatbrain or are still waiting for it. Which of the two seems to be unrelated to when the order was placed. Some people have ordered and gotten it quickly, others have been waiting a couple of weeks or more. But at least Fatbrain appears to be shipping copies. I've heard from only a couple of people who've actually gotten the book from Amazon. 

I'm sure that O'Reilly, the distributors and the booksellers themselves are doing everything possible to get the books in stock and shipped. This problem will probably clear up shortly. One of my readers mentioned that he'd stopped by his local computer book store to pick up a copy. The manager told him that the six copies they'd initially ordered had sold out the day they arrived, so perhaps the book is moving off the shelves quickly elsewhere as well. Or so we hope.

Got another DG chapter off to Pournelle yesterday afternoon. I have two more nearly ready to send him, so he's probably feeling like he's drinking from the proverbial fire hose.

 


wpoison

 

 

 

Search [tips]

TTG Home

Robert Home

Daynotes Home

Links

Special Reports

Current Topics

 


Saturday, 28 October 2000

[Last Week] [Monday] [Tuesday] [Wednesday] [Thursday] [Friday] [Saturday] [Sunday] [Next Week]


As usual, I ran web stats this morning for this site, Pournelle's site, and HardwareGuys.com. No surprises for the first two. This site averages about 2,500 page reads per day, and Pournelle's site does three or four times that. What did surprise me was that HardwareGuys.com has started to catch on faster than I expected. It averaged 400 page reads/day for the week, and the best day was over 800 page reads. That site is going to generate a lot of page reads, though, because everything isn't consolidated in one or two weekly pages as it is here. The 3,000 or so total page reads for the week resulted from only 529 distinct hosts, which given the mix of dial-up and always-on users probably translates to something like only 750 actual visits. I really do need to devote some serious time to that site. Of course, I also need to devote some quality time to the book Pournelle and I are doing, the book Barbara and I are doing, and to getting some stuff done around here. 

Barbara just came in this morning and announced that she wasn't going to tell me again that I'd better get the loose receptacle hanging out of the wall in the bathroom fixed. She sounded serious. According to Barbara, it's been that way for three years and, from her tone, she thinks that's unreasonable. She's a woman, so of course she does. As a man, my position is that no one has electrocuted himself yet. Anyway, I could swear it hasn't been like this more than two years. 

bathwire.jpg (29228 bytes)

The problem is that that outlet box needs a combination switch/receptacle. The switch controls the exhaust fan over the bathtub. I've tried before, but the box just isn't deep enough to allow cramming in a switch/receptacle along with the two pieces of Romex that terminate there. I actually physically cracked one switch/receptacle trying to cram it back in. I considered replacing the current old-work box with a deeper box, but there's stuff running behind that makes that impossible. So I'm going to take the easy route. We don't use that bathtub much anyway, and the room has a window for ventilation. So I'm just going to install a dual receptacle, which I should be able to cram in there.

PC Hardware in a Nutshell continues to do well in the Amazon.com rankings, although not as well as I'd like. This morning, it was at 1,815, which isn't bad given that it's showing 2-3 day availability. (Hmmm, it jumped to 1,811 and then 1,794 while I was writing this, so it must have sold at least two more copies.) I'll be satisfied if, once the availability problems clear up, it can consistently maintain a ranking of 1,000 or thereabouts, and delighted if it can maintain a consistent ranking in the mid- to high three figures. But that's expecting a lot. 

The sub-500 numbers are normally occupied by fiction, which sells in very large numbers, but for a relatively short time. Pournelle's The Burning City is a good example. When it shipped in March, it immediately jumped into the 100 to 200 range, and stayed there for a month or so, selling a great many copies. But after a couple of months, it had dropped into the 10,000 to 20,000 range, and now it sits at 40,000. Patricia Cornwell shows a similar pattern. Her latest Kay Scarpetta novel, The Last Precinct, shipped a week or so ago. It now sits at #11 in the Amazon ranking, which means Amazon is selling a huge number of copies, perhaps 5,000 or 10,000 a week. Her previous Kay Scarpetta novel, Black Notice, shipped about 15 months ago. It currently sits at about 25,000 on the Amazon rankings, which means Amazon is selling very few copies of it, perhaps 50 a week.

Best-selling computer books seldom sell in huge numbers in any one day, week, or month, but they sell consistently well over a long period of time. That means that very few computer books can sustain a very low Amazon rank for any extended period (although there are exceptions), but may remain in the 500 to 1,500 range for months or even years, which no fiction book can even come close to. And I'd much rather have a book that sits in the 500 to 1,500 range month-in-month-out than one that gets to 100 but only remains there for a week or a month. So we'll see.

 


wpoison

 

 

 

Search [tips]

TTG Home

Robert Home

Daynotes Home

Links

Special Reports

Current Topics

 


Sunday, 29 October 2000

[Last Week] [Monday] [Tuesday] [Wednesday] [Thursday] [Friday] [Saturday] [Sunday] [Next Week]


The operation was a success. Being a Real Man, I didn't bother to turn off the breaker before working on the circuit. Barbara now has a standard dual receptacle in the bathroom, and it took her only three years to convince me to do it. I still need to find an ivory screw to replace the white one currently there. The ivory screw that came with the cover plate was too short, so I substituted the white one. I should also note that after being available for almost a full day, this receptacle still has not been used for anything. So what was the big hurry?

bathplug.jpg (18959 bytes)

Thanks to the several readers who pointed out that I should replace the existing old-work box with a double-gang box. The problem is that the stud is to the right of the box, and there's inadequate room to the left of the stud for a double-gang box. That dark item to the left of the picture is the edge of a huge wall-mounted mirror, and there's just not room between the stud and the mirror for a double-gang box. And before anyone points it out, I would have preferred to install a GFCI receptacle, but there simply wasn't room to do so. I should probably trace this circuit and replace another of the receptacles on it with a GFCI, which will protect the entire circuit.

Barbara found an interesting cost-of-living comparator. If this thing is accurate, it requires the following incomes in various cities to match a $100,000 income in Winston-Salem, North Carolina:

Knoxville, Tennessee - $96,919
Asheville, North Carolina - $104,406

And, just for giggles:

Boston, Massachusetts - $132,070
Los Angeles, California - $161,988
New York, New York - $209,119

Which makes me wonder why people live in those cities. I wouldn't live in any of them even if they had lower costs of living. They're full of annoying things like crime, traffic, and professional sports teams. That people are actually willing to pay more to live in those places is amazing. I've lived in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Washington, DC. You couldn't get me to live in a big town again on a bet. At just under 200,000 city population and 1,000,000 or so in the metro area, Winston-Salem is far too big for my liking as it is.

 


[Last Week] [Monday] [Tuesday] [Wednesday] [Thursday] [Friday] [Saturday] [Sunday] [Next Week]

 

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.